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When ali‘i ruled, terror was not far behind

By Staff | Jan 30, 2014

Lahainaluna High School students annually celebrate the life of David Malo, a historian who told of ancient times.

There’s the Kaanapali Ali’i, Ali’i Dry Cleaners, even Ali’i Computer Services. Perhaps not such a good idea, since the actions of these Hawaiian chiefs were mixed.

For those fascinated with Hawaiian culture, the story of the ali’i portrayed in David Malo’s classic “Hawaiian Antiquities” makes for interesting reading.

A new edition of the book is available at the Maui Friends of the Library Bookstore at The Wharf Cinema Center.

In the 1830’s, Lahainaluna was more like a college than a high school. David Malo, 38, was one of its best student-scholars.

The historian is respected so much that a David Malo Day celebration is held every year way up Lahainaluna Road at the school.

In ancient times, Malo wrote, Hawaiians in need of government appointed a king whose job was to “gather the people in time of war and decide all important questions of state concerning the life and death of the common people.” It was also his duty to consecrate temples and oversee religious rites.

Before the arrival of Tahitians in 800 A.D., most everybody on Maui was considered equal. Then, a higher class of people, the ali’i, were appointed to keep everything running smoothly, sometimes with deadly force.

A chief of high rank was not allowed to have children with a woman of lesser rank. A suitable partner for a chief of the highest rank to preserve the blood lines was his sister. Their offspring would be of the highest rank.

Ali’i had six different names for the offspring of different kinds of kingly parents. A man who was given a gift of land by an ali’i, for example, was known as an ali’i-kau-holo-papa, an ali’i of lesser rank.

Death was the penalty for disrespecting an ali’i. Commoners could be put to death if they raised a knee when kneeling before an ali’i (required), launched a canoe at the same time as an ali’i or stepped into the shadow of an ali’i during daylight.

If traveling by day, a flag bearer would call out “kapu moe,” causing commoners to prostrate themselves. When personal possessions, such as an ali’i’s clothing or food, were being carried, anyone who remained standing was put to death.

A king could put to death or spare a commoner with a single word. There was no penalty for murder. Thus, Malo wrote, most commoners lived in fear.

If they survived, Hawaiians were keen observers of land, sea and even human behavior. They had 33 different names for various conditions in the ocean, 14 names for different kinds of clouds, nine names for winds, four names for various kinds of rain, seven names for the time of day and 30 names for days of the month.

Though comfortable putting people to death, the ancients had far more than the fabled deadly seven sins. They had as many as 32 words for human frailties, including deceit (hoo-punipuni) and lying (waha he).

One word that does not appear in Malo’s extensive index is “aloha.” Its embrace by many of today’s Hawaiians and malihini who have taken up residence here must mean that there has been progress. And today, at least according to the Declaration of Independence, all men and women “are created equal.”